When will the bad news from DCFEMS stop?

The hits just keep on coming, as the embattled department sees failure after failure

Surprise, surprise. The department that serves our nation’s capital is once again making news that no one wants to hear. I’ve thought about the incident where responders stood by as a man suffered a fatal heart attack across from a fire house numerous times since it broke last week. Is there any situation where I would not step out of my station to investigate a call for medical aid? I suppose I wouldn’t go if there were bullets flying, or a massive explosion, or thousands of killer bees were swarming. Scene safety, after all.

But this wasn’t that. It happens all the time across this country — someone rings the bell, worried and stressed about a medical emergency. And, like clockwork, we investigate the issue, call communications, get additional assistance — we do something. We are conditioned to help.

So when DCFEMS closes the station door and allows a unit to respond from a distance, even in my most altruistic, half-glass-full, hoping-against-hope mindset, I just shake my head. I just don’t get it.

Wait, I got it: The department simply is not in the business of public safety. It’s a club. It’s a soap opera. It’s anything but a community organization whose mission is to protect the citizenry from harm. To say that’s unfortunate would be the understatement of the decade.

To be fair, I’m certain there are some really great individuals working within DCFEMS who are good people. Heck, I’ll even go out on a limb to say many are. But it does no good when those who don’t care about what they do ruin it for the rest of them. It takes but a few disasters to wipe out thousands of instances where things go right. And DCFEMS has a rich reserve of unmitigated disasters.

Ironically, discipline alone isn’t going to resolve this problem. It’s not just a couple individuals making a mess of things. The department has a deep, systemic dysfunction of being unaccountable to those they serve. It comes from the top, and seeps through the ranks like dirty water from a room and contents fire, running through the rest of a building.

I don’t mean to be mean-spirited — I really want DCFEMS to succeed in its mission. People who live, work and visit in the District deserve great care and prompt response from its public servants. Is that too much to ask?


About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

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